Opinion: Shaming Trevor Noah doesn’t encourage others to apologise

Contributor to The Feed, Lauren Rosewarne, asks 'Are Noah's remarks genuinely unforgivable or is the outrage we see more of the hyperbolic virtue signalling expected of the Left?'

Trevor Noah’s awful comments about Aboriginal women were said in 2013. They’ve resurfaced half a decade on because Joe Williams tweeted about them and because Noah’s on his way to Australia so there’s a news hook and renewed relevance.

Noah’s comments were stupid and offensive. But what exactly do we want now? What do we feel we need from Noah, what will put this matter to rest? A pint of blood? A pound of flesh? Will Noah self-flagellating on stage prior to his Australian appearances finally be the mea culpa we so crave?

Noah has stated that he’d never make such a joke again and that he’s open to learning more: is that not exactly what those of us in the business of social justice are after? Will we only rest when we get a James Gunn-style firing as some kind of vindication for our outrage?

Trevor Noah has become the latest victim of the Left’s bloodsport of shaming. Be it those with a genuine beef about his half-decade old comments, or people who just want to loudly assert that they aren’t racist, we progressives spend an awful lot of time engaged in a digital stacks-on of anyone who we feel let down by.

Noah screwed up. But should one screw-up derail a career of covering race issues in an incredibly intelligent, funny way? Since 2015, his show has been a rare example of mainstream media making a genuine effort to promote non-white talent.

When we hold someone in high esteem, and they stumble – which humans inevitably do – not only do we call them out for it, but our guilt at ever enjoying them in the first place amplifies our retaliation to levels far disproportionate to the crime.   

Should one screw-up derail a career of covering race issues?

Our sentiments towards social and political issues – be they trans issues, race issues, sexuality issues – are, rightly, in a constant process of evolution. This truth, however, sits uncomfortably alongside the reality of our extensive social media histories. Every stupid comment, every ill-timed barb, every clumsy attempt at humour is there forever and for everyone to see.

What we say never goes away, so opinions we may come to regret are fixed and final even though humans are a work in progress. If bad jokes exist forever online, are we deterred from admitting when we’re wrong? If we know that the Left will take any opportunity to pounce, to silence, are we discouraged from educating ourselves and having a constructive dialogue about political issues?

The call-outs are expected: this is how we respond in our age of outrage. But at what point does calling out bad behaviour become unconstructive shaming? Equally, at what point does shaming morph into the very kind of bullying that we so abhor?

There will be people who won’t forgive Noah. That’s their call. But I ask them this: Are his remarks genuinely unforgivable or is their outrage more of the hyperbolic virtue signalling expected of the Left?

Lauren Rosewarne is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne and the author of nine books on gender, sexuality, politics and pop culture. She co-hosts Radio National’s “Stop Everything!” pop culture show and Mamamia’s “Sealed Section” podcast and can be found at: www.laurenrosewarne.com